Melissa wasn't exactly surprised by how easily they were able to take the prison. Their group had grown so tight over the winter, watching out for each other and scavenging whatever they could find. Rick and Daryl had spent the whole winter teaching the group everything they could about hand to hand combat, hand signals and gun training when they could spare the ammo. They spent time as a group talking through situations they may find themselves in and how to get out of them. And they were clear on what people's roles within the group would be.
Melissa knew she wasn't exactly a fighter. She had had her place in the group before helping with chores and such, but she wanted more for herself. She felt like a burden, like she wasn't pulling her weight or contributing anything to the group even though she washed clothes, cleaned and cooked for everyone. It meant something to her that she felt like a valued member and, though she didn't tell anyone this, it didn't go un-noticed for too long.
Hershel first noticed it one day when she was hanging laundry. He could see the chagrin on her face performing the think less work with no real purpose. She was surprised when he approached her, instead of one of his daughters, to ask if he could teach her some things about medicine. He told her he figured he could use all the help he could get with Lori's delivery and everyone knew it wouldn't hurt for someone to learn from him just in case something happened to him, although no one dare said anything about it. Melissa had even caught Daryl stealing a few glances at her during several of Hershel's lessons. She'd give him a quick, small smile and he would gently nod in approval.
Daryl was grateful to Hershel for giving Melissa more purpose. A new skill she could be proud of. He felt so guilty for the way he had treated her when they realized her little sister had been turned to a walker. It had meant so much to everyone to find her alive and especially meant something to Daryl. On some level, Sophia made him think of himself as a child. An abusive drunk for a father was something he had in common with the sisters. The difference was Sophia had someone in her life that really cared for her. Who wanted to make a better life for her and was working on it, putting off her desire to go to college and working two jobs to help with the bills and raise her sister. She had been secretly stashing away tips from her waitressing job to save up for her own place. She was going to run away with Sophia and never come back before all hell broke loose. Daryl believed Sophia had even more of a chance to have a somewhat normal childhood once Ed was gone. Melissa cared for Sophia as a mother, rather than a sister fifteen years her senior. After their mother died giving birth to Sophia, taking care of her baby sister wasn't only necessary, but she was happy to do it. She had told Daryl about the times she would provoke her father anytime it seemed he was going to take his rage out on Sophia. Melissa had taken the brunt of every drunken binder and, while Daryl hated the thought of it, respected her for it. But when Sophia's fate was revealed to the group he became overwhelmed with guilt over not being able to find her sooner and took it out on Melissa, making her feel like she had failed her little sister.
The way he had treated her wasn't fair. He knew she didn't deserve it, and even though she had been kind enough to try to keep him from pulling himself away from the group, he felt she may never really forgive him for it. He knew even going back for her when the farm had been overrun by hundreds of walkers wasn't going to be enough to make up for it.
That winter, he looked for chances for redemption everywhere he could find one without making it seem too obvious. When she would bring him food so that he wouldn't skip meals he always offered her some. When the nights were really cold he insisted she use his blanket even though she already had one. He worked with her and helped her to correct her form during gun or hand to hand combat training, and even asked her to ride on his motorcycle to shoot walkers to pave the way for the rest of the cars in the caravan when they needed to move. These things were necessary, but also gave him an excuse to talk to her, even to touch her sometimes.
Finding excuses to touch her wasn't exactly a priority on the farm. In fact the thought of any kind of intimacy like that with anyone used to make his stomach turn. However, it seemed that ever since the night the farm had been overrun with walkers, thinking about what would have happened to her if he hadn't gone back, had made the thought of intimacy with Melissa not only easier to tolerate, but it had almost become a regular thing. But, he knew he wasn't anywhere near ready to act on it. He figured she would probably reject him if he did anyway. He didn't deserve someone as kind or as pretty as her, with her long wavy, grown out blonde hair, slim frame, perfect skin and green eyes. No. For now, casually glancing her way to make sure she was still there and still safe and standing between her and any threat that had presented itself had been enough.
Since she began her medical training with Hershel, the occasional nod had become almost the only exchange the two had. So he was grateful when she approached him one day in February as he was getting his gear ready for a hunt. She was dressed in a long sleeved, form-fitting, black shirt, skinny dark blue jeans that were tucked into a pair of black boots and a black jacket they had found on the road that fit her small frame perfectly. She had a loose braid that hung over one shoulder touching the middle of her chest. Daryl hadn't noticed her coming until she was nearly behind him when he heard the leaves rustling under her boots. He turned and took her in for a moment with his eyes, then looked away before he was caught looking too long.
"You goin' out?" She asked, resting her hands on her hips.
"Can't hurt." He replied coolly before catching her eyes, then looking toward the forest again.
"I was thinking," She began. "What if I came with you? "
"What about Hershel? Ain't you gotta do yer lessons with him? Learning how to be a doctor's somethin' you can't be takin' no days off from."
She smiled. "I'm not learning how to be a doctor. Hershel's just teachin' me some things to help with the baby and some general first aid. That kinda thing."
Daryl could barely keep himself from looking at her, but he tried. She had always been pretty and he had always noticed, but today her eyes were sparkling and her face was lit up, something he hadn't seen much of lately. He figured it must be due excitement and pride in the new skills she was learning and the new role she was taking within the group.
"You'd just slow me down," he said before thinking. He looked her in the eyes and turned up one corner of his mouth to take the sting out of his words. "You know I'm better on my own."
"I'm not asking cause I thought I could actually be of use to you." This caught his attention full on. Where was she going with this? "Training with Hershel got me thinking. What if I get separated from ya'll at some point? I know almost nothing about survival. I wouldn't make it two days. I don't know how to hunt, find water, shelter and you know as well as I do I'm not exactly too light on my feet. I was kinda hopin' you could teach me a thing or two." He wasn't cutting her off. He was actually thinking about it. She went on. "I'd teach you what I know, but something tells me laundry and cookin' ain't anything you'd be interested in anyway." They gently smiled at each other. He looked away, but he still didn't object, so she went on. "I thought I could repay the favor by joining you on hunts a couple of times a week or so. Maybe the two of us could find more food for the group and we could all eat a little better for it."
It ain't a bad idea, he thought. The prospect of spending more time with her excited him. And she was right. If they were ever separated, he wanted her to be able to fend for herself. At least long enough until he could find her.
"A'right" he said strapping his crossbow over his shoulder with much concentration to keep himself from smiling.
Melissa smiled, but she looked at her feet and quickly changed her expression, making the lines of her mouth stay straight as they walked into the forest together.
Over the next couple of months she divided her time between Hershel and Daryl, spending most days with Hershel and only Hunting with Daryl one to two times a week. She didn't neglect her other work and despite all the new skills she was learning she continued to help with cooking, cleaning and laundry. She worked harder than anyone else in the group and Daryl had noticed. He was impressed with her.
She took her lessons with Daryl seriously and did everything he told her to do the first time. He was surprised by how easily she learned to move quietly, making almost no noise. That was the first thing he taught her their first day in the woods and she nailed it after only a few instructions from him. They spent some of their evening's together working on making traps from whatever materials they could. He showed her how to track and even taught her how to fire his crossbow. She wasn't exactly a natural, but she was learning.
When they came across walkers, he would show her how to take them out without making a sound aside from the nasty squishing of the knife being thrust into the head; gently lying the walker down on the ground and pulling the knife back out.
They weren't bringing back as much food as she had expected and she started to wonder if the others suspected they were just sneaking off into the woods to fool around instead of hunt. That never happened, of course, but she found herself secretly wishing it would.
They were treated like heroes one evening when they brought back a small deer. Melissa had shot it herself with Daryl's crossbow. Daryl had coached her through the whole thing. Crouching closely behind her, she could feel his chest on her back. His left hand gently on her hip and his right on her elbow to slightly correct her aim. She noticed they were even breathing together. She was briefly distracted by the feel of his lips gently touching her ear as he almost inaudibly whispered the final instructions of where to aim and when to shoot. She suppressed her excitement and ignored the energy between them, focusing all she had on the deer. The last thing she wanted was to let him down after he'd spent so much time teaching her.
Over time, she noticed, they had begun to move together. They didn't even really use signals anymore; each knowing what was expected of the other. Her role was always to stay behind and on his right, rarely putting more than a few feet of space between them and never out of sight.
As the months passed, food became scarcer and Hershel needed more of her attention, their time together became more rare, but they never wasted an opportunity when one presented itself. There was very little talking; always hunting; always cautious for walkers.
One cold, cloudy day the group was scavenging house to house in search of food, supplies, and a place to stay a night or longer, as they so often did. The first team, Rick, Daryl, T-Dog, Glenn, even Carl cleared the house through various entrances killing any walkers in sight instantly and without a word while the rest of the group waited in the cars; engines still on in case they needed to make a quick getaway. When they would get the all clear from Rick, the rest of the group would bring the supplies inside. They had done this so many times. They all knew their places and, on this day, nobody spoke a word.
Melissa had become a more confident fighter and a great shot, thanks to Daryl's training, and one day she had approached Rick and asked if she could help the team clear the houses from now on, but Daryl and Hershel insisted she stay behind in the cars with the rest of the group. Daryl didn't want her in harm's way and Hershel didn't want to risk the safety of his prodigy. Although she was turned down, it made her proud that people in the group considered her valuable enough not to risk her safety.
She smiled to herself recalling that memory as she carried a few bags into the house with the rest of the group after getting the signal. When she went inside she could tell instantly things would be pretty scarce. The vibe didn't feel hopeful. She joined T-Dog, Maggie, Glenn, Lori, Hershel, and Beth sitting on the floor of the living room. Rick paced quietly about the room. A moment later Daryl came down the stairs, picking feathers off an owl. The owl looked like it had died from starvation rather than Daryl's arrow, but she knew that hadn't been the case. He positioned himself on the other side of the room and continued to pick feathers.
At least it's something, she thought to herself.
Soon they were joined by Carl who carried two cans of food. Her spirits lifted briefly until she saw the picture of a dog on the label. She made eye contact with Daryl. He knew it too. They couldn't look at each other for too long and they both quickly glanced away. It had been weeks since they brought back the deer and food since then had been scarce to say the least.
Everyone just stared at the floor, no one saying a word. The only sound in the room was Carl opening the cans with his hand held can opener. Nobody looked at each other. Spirits were too low. When Rick threw one of the cans against the fireplace, Melissa wasn't surprised. She knew Rick better than to let them eat dog food, even if they were starving. He never stopped trying to give his people hope, even in the most desperate of times, as this most certainly was.
She was lost in her own thoughts when she heard T-Dog whistle. She turned and looked out the window behind her to see a dozen walkers, at least, outside the house. They hadn't smelled the live people inside yet and she knew the group wasn't going to wait around for that to happen. They quietly gathered their supplies and ran out of the house. Melissa had just thrown three bags into the back of Rick and Lori's truck when she noticed the walkers were getting close enough for the group to start shooting at them. She pulled her own gun out and quietly took three of them out herself. She heard Daryl rev up his bike. He threw her a glance and, knowing what to do she jumped on the back, wrapping her left arm around his waist and shooting walkers that she felt were too close so as to clear the way for the rest of the group as she and Daryl took the lead.
As dark of a day that had been for the group's morale, Melissa couldn't help but think to herself how well they moved as a group. How polished they had become. They were hungry, but they were strong. Really strong. And it gave her some hope.
So when they took the prison without one single group casualty, she wasn't surprised. The only time she felt worried was when Rick, Daryl, T-Dog, Glenn and Maggie went inside to clear a cell block. She wanted to go, but Daryl insisted she stay with Lori. It felt like hours before they came out to signal for the rest that it was safe to join them inside.
There was blood everywhere, but nobody cared. They were proud to have secured this place. They knew it would mean something. As she passed Daryl walking in, she smiled at him, quietly thanking him. He gently nodded back in return.
They were exhausted, but they were safe. She hoped they could all sleep more sound tonight.